Tuesday, July 28, 2015

28 July 2015

This week took a long while. We spent a lot of time running around Hyderabad, looking for addresses. Elder Peter was the only one of 4 missionaries who knew anything about the area, so we got to explore a lot. We did find some very fun things, though. In India, Muslims don't eat pork, and almost everyone doesn't like it. We still found a bacon shop! It is the only place, besides Dominos pizza, that has had any sort of pork products. Even in Dominos, the pepperoni pizza is tied for the most expensive pizza on the menu. That other pizza had about 10 toppings, to put it into perspective. Anyway, we spent a lot of time finding people until Wednesday. Then, we had Preach My Gospel Fundamentals Camp. They pulled in everyone from three zones, a total of nearly half the mission, or 70ish elders. We learned about everything in Preach My Gospel, and had a lot of fun. It was a three day camp, but we weren't there for three days straight. We'd go there in the morning, which took about a half hour bus ride, learn, then go back to our areas and try to apply the things we'd learned that day. It was good! I picked up a lot from it, including a few predominant themes, like obedience to mission rules and finding people to teach everywhere. We had two elders from Visak over in our apartment too during the camp, which meant we had 6 elders, one water heater, two bedrooms, and only one person who knew the area. It was a lot of fun! One of the new elders, Elder Kunchala, was staying in his home ward! He'd only been out for 8 weeks, then got stuck back. When out visiting a member at one point, the member asked why he was dressed up (we don't wear nametags in Hyderabad). He didn't realize Elder Kunchala was a missionary!

After the camp was over, we had a lot to do still. It ended late Friday, and Saturday was a stake event, a pioneer heritage thing. It was pretty awesome! We pulled sticks and watched some pioneer-style dances. They even made a covered handcart that they pulled some of the women around in. We did most of our preparation to go back to Rajamundry on Sunday. It was kind of shocking how little stuff I'd brought for two weeks. Then, finally, we had the longest train ride...ever.

Monday morning, we woke up at 3 to get to the train station. It looked pretty high-security at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. I looked back after walking though a metal detector, and noticed that only one of the 4 they had was on. I'd walked through the one that was on, and it didn't go off despite all of the metal I was carrying. They had some security officers at a folding table, who stopped people seemingly at random. Anyway, we made it on the train safely, only to learn that sleeper class wasn't quite as luxurious as I'd imagined. As in, Alcatraz had better facilities. To aid the impression that it was a prison, all the beds were folding beds that were stuck to the wall and stacked three-high, and there were bars in all the windows, which could almost open and close. The luggage room was limited-whatever you could cram under the bed. There were a lot of people on board at first, but thankfully, the train got down to half empty pretty quickly. It was pretty nice, by the end. You could freely walk around the train, except for AC class (air conditioned), the best. You'd get kicked out of that. The trip took a total of 12 hours with all the stops, but it wasn't bad. You could get out and walk at the stations, and there were always vendors walking the aisles selling things, mostly food.

When we arrived back in Rajamundry, we unpacked all of our stuff, then went over to my last apartment and pulled all the junk out of there too. My new area is Rajamundry 2nd branch, and the apartment is a shockingly far 1/2 mile away, and my new companion is Elder Patten. 
From now on, all pdays should be on Monday. The reason they've been on Tuesday is because we've been traveling on Mondays, but since I hopefully won't move for another month, I should be good. Oh, and the package hasn't reached me yet. We can't get the packages until the zone leaders go to the mission office for MLC and bring them back, and the next one is August 4th. I'll know by next week!

Monday, July 20, 2015

20 July 2015

This week started off in a very exciting way: burning ties. One of the (as far as I can tell) worldwide missionary traditions is burning a tie at your 6 month mark, a shirt at your year mark, pants at your 18 month mark, and a suit coat before you go home. This was probably the first and last thing I'm going to burn, but it was fun while it lasted. To celebrate, we went up to the roof of our apartment complex, and tried to get the ties to catch fire. That ended up being a lot harder than I thought. I had got 400 matches, so it theoretically would have been easy. Nope! Partly because of the wind, and partly because I had gotten really cheap matches, it took nearly all of them before the ties caught. I had just bought the tie I burned off of a companion, so I still have all my original ties. It was a lot of fun in  the end, because once the ties caught, they burned for a while.

The next day, I finally busted one of my longstanding barriers: 4 plates of rice! The members here always will try to fit as much rice down your throat as is humanly possible, and this time I managed it! The member was thrilled.

On Saturday, we had a day of caution. It was the first day of Ramzan, or Ramadan, and so we were told to be very careful in who we talked to and how late we were out, because the celebration may get out of hand. In reality, nothing really happened. I wouldn't have guessed that it was Ramadan if I hadn't been told. Pushkaral, on the other hand, is being absolutely insane. In one day, 5,000,000 people showed up. That was twice the number that anyone expected, all in one day. This particular type of Pushkaral only happens once every 144 years, and so it was a little bigger than people guessed, what with India's population growing in the last 144 years. 

We found three new interesting investigators this week. The first was the son of a late evangelical christian preacher, and was very excited to meet us. We ran into him on accident, and he invited us in, and we had a very long gospel discussion. His church, the church of Christ, has very similar beliefs to us, but he doesn't trust the old testament, priesthood, or revelation. We plan on coming back, because he may be promising. The next two we found were also on accident, and also while looking for someone else. They go to the church of Jesus Christ of Nazareth's Ministry, and once again have very similar beliefs. We taught about the plan of salvation, and they got very excited about it, and invited us back!

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These are some of the Pushkaral decorations

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This is pourri, an indian breakfast food. It's a little like a fried pancake, full of air
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Elder Stephen was quite a character. He talks back too much.

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Not my arm, by the way- Elder Willis did the honors.

There are a few others, the zone leaders, but they weren't there at the picture fest. So, this is who was.

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This is the field behind our apartment. It used to be an apartment complex, but one too many Mormons lived there. Just kidding, it's a dump where someone was burning trash.

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This is the most common form of stairs in India: tall, narrow. and very space-efficient.

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This is us with our ward mission leader and his wife, Deepak and Sunitha. 
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They have no mercy.

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No explanation needed.

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This dead parrot was just faking it. It started moving after a while.
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Not the name I would have picked for a beauty salon.

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This is a really creepy ice cream statue, in case it wasn't obvious.

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This is the West Maredpally chapel in Hyderabad. It is very nice, and as far as I know, is not the only nonrented meetinghouse in all of India. 

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We visited an Indian zoo, and found they had some surprising animals in there. Giant tortoises were one shocking feature. 

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Also, we saw a guy riding an elephant. No elephant exhibit, just this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

15 July 2015

This week has been the craziest yet, and that's saying a lot. Last week, we did a whole lot of visiting less actives, and trying to visit our investigators for the last time before Elder Willis went home. That went pretty well, but I remember next to none of it. The latest events kind of overshadowed that...
In India, there is a festival called Pushkaral that happens every year, rotating around the 12 holy rivers of India. This year, it was Rajamundry's turn, with the Godavri river. Whenever there is a Pushkaral, people flock to the river of the year to take a dip in it, from all over India, as a Hindu religious thing.They are usually pretty massive. However, this was the 12th Pushkaral to happen there since the last 12th Pushkaral, so this one is insanely massive. As in, 2,500,000 people are expected to go to Rajamundry alone in under two weeks, the duration of Pushkaral. There are a whole load of other cities along the Godavri that are getting even more people. We got shifted out of Rajamundry for Puskaral, for a few reasons. First, it's going to be almost exclusively Hindus there. Second, it'll be a huge party. And finally, Rajamundry's population is going to explode, so it will be really hard to do anything. Oh, and on the first day already, 27 people were trampled to death when the Prime Minister took his dip. The rest of the two weeks will be even worse as more people show up. Luckily, I'm 1000 kilometers away right now!
All the Rajamundry missionaries are in Hyderabad right now. It's a lot more of a big city than most areas on the mission, but you'll still find cows, dogs, and more on the streets. The biggest difference is that you'll find cars and shops of all kinds here. Oh, and the power doesn't go out every time it rains! Proselyting in Hyderabad is a lot different, too. We can't wear nametags, and try to avoid anyone wearing a red dot on their face. That is a sign that they belong to a majorly antiChristian group. People here speak a lot more, and better, English, thankfully.
Yesterday, we had a crazy p day. The zoo in Hyderabad is always closed on Mondays, but because p day got shifted to Tuesday, missionaries could go! And so we did. I heard that it's the biggest zoo in Asia, but it's still a little smaller that the Indianapolis zoo. What's more, they only charge 50 cents to get in. Unfortunately, they charge for everything else that is possible to charge for. If you want to bring a bag in, too bad. You have to check it. 20 rupees! Do you want to get into certain exhibits? 10 rupees! How about a drink? 20 rupees! It had some cool animals in there though- like an exhibit where fruit bats flew around freely, and weren't separated from you in any way. The cage was underground and the entrances were covered in plastic so they couldn't leave, but that was it. It was awesome! I can't send any pictures right now, because I'm using a virus-laden net cafe computer, but I'll send them out eventually. After we went to the zoo, we headed back. It was a one hour bus ride there, but a two hour ride back because of traffic. When we got to the chapel we all met at, we started emailing. There wasn't enough computers there for all of us, so we were going to take turns, but we had to leave before we could all go. By the time we got back to our area, all the net cafes were closing. That's why I'm only emailing today.

It sounds like you had fun at girls camp! It rained last night, hard enough to cover half the roads in a foot of water. Maybe they put you in that capstone course because you are finishing! And as for things to send, could you send some family photos that are waterproofed in some way? Everyone here has them, and all the members and investigators ask to see them. They have to be waterproofed because walking or cycling in the rain gets you wet pretty quickly. Other than that, things are pretty good over here. I've decided what I'm getting myself for my birthday- a camera with an optical zoom, and can see in less than sunlight. You can find cameras for super cheap over here!

Monday, July 6, 2015

6 July 2015

Guess what we had for lunch last Monday, right after emailing?

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It was very interesting, and very chewy. Right after that, we visited a member, whose mom insisted on feeding us more curry. That was the first beef I'd had since coming in, and tasted absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we were all super full already, so eating more made life interesting for the next few hours. 

We had some very exciting things happen on Tuesday. Specifically, I finally registered! Everyone has to register with the police as soon as they come in, but the police are really tough to get a hold of. I had to visit five times over two weeks, waiting for at least an hour or two each time, to talk to the superintendent of police. Once in, it took ten seconds and two questions before he signed my papers and I was off. Fun! We had 6 appointments scheduled that day, but all but one bunked on us. So, we spent a lot of time cycling around, trying to find someone who'd let us teach them. With the aid of a member, we actually did though- Sri Babee, a less active family. We shared a good lesson, and will definitely be back. Also, we tried the Indian version of an American pizza chain's version of Hawaiian pizza. It had jalapenos, pineapple, and corn.
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Wednesday started out in a fascinating way. At about two in the morning, the power cut, and the air conditioner quit. So, we opened the windows. That did let in a breeze, but also dozens of mosquitoes, and did not change the fact that it was super hot out. We spent the whole night slapping at bugs and sweating. I can now truly empathize with the poor people who don't have air conditioning or windows. Later that day, we tried visiting around, but all of our appointments bunked again. We went out with a member, Naveen, for a while, but even with his smiling face by our side, all the appointments we had scheduled bunked. It was a long day.

On Thursday, we had a really good weekly planning. Pres. Berret had just given us a training on how to most effectively use weekly planning last week, and so we applied everything for this week. It took four hours, and we still weren't all the way done. We had to do a baptismal interview for the zone leaders after that, then get my cycle fixed (the tire had busted). It took the repairmen under five minutes to fix the puncture, and he didn't even have to take the tire off! Finally, we had an appointment that night that didn't ditch! The Teykie family! They don't actually speak English, but we brought along a member to translate. 

Friday morning, we had zone training in the morning. A new rule was put in: the 2 a day rule. From now on, we have to eat two fruits or vegetables a day. Apparently, even with the vitamins that all missionaries are supposed to be taking, a whole lot of them are getting malnourished. It's probably because all that there is to eat here is rice and curry. It tastes good, though. Then, we tried to stop by the ATM to pull out my allotment. It was supposed to come Wednesday, but the troubles about it aren't even over yet. Apparently, for some reason, my card isn't in the pay system. Then, when Elder Bedke, the financial secretary, tried to manually add money to it, it wouldn't work. Then, he called the zone leaders to ask them to pay it out of the petty cash, but they didn't have enough left in it. Finally, he added it to their account, and had them withdraw it to give to me. Hopefully, that'll get fixed. Right after that, we met up with some people. First was Sathya, a RC, before taking our BML, Deepak, out to the Tornalapatis, an investigator family. They said they'd come to church! Finally, we visited the Dondapati's, and got Bro. Dondapati to commit to get and to live worthy of the Melchizedek priesthood. That's actually a big problem here- recent converts falling off right after. Coming back to the apartment, I got in another cycle crash, but again, it wasn't serious at all. I don't even have to fix the cycle!

The fourth of July was on Saturday, but that isn't a big thing here. In the morning, we talked with the zone leaders, because one is having some health problems. Then, we exchanged with them, and went to some Telegu speaking investigators. Elder Anthony is the only Telegu speaker in the zone, so if we want to teach anyone who doesn't speak English, we have to bring him.The whole rest of the day we spent visiting some families, including an eternal investigator family, the Ganesh's. 

Sunday was a lot of fun. We had a good sacrament meeting- three investigators showed up! That's a record that hasn't been broken in months. We did a lot of visiting families. The most notable one was where we got invited off the street into one home, out of nowhere, by a random guy who had apparently been taught by missionaries in the past but who we didn't know. He introduced us to his family, and asked to be taught! That was incredibly awesome. That night, we had an interesting experience. Our BML, Deepak, had invited us over to dinner. We had coconut rice and potato curry, and loads of it. Having meals with most Indian families is like a science experiment. You have to figure out exactly how much food will fit in your stomach before it all comes out, then eat twice as much. They'll give you a massive plate of rice and curry, and just as you finish that, they'll load you up with more. Around the time that you're just making your way through that stack of carbs, the mom of the house will come at you with yet more. It is impossible to get away with eating less than two plates, and very difficult to not eat three. I personally have never managed to avoid the third, but I've heard that it has been done. After that, sometimes they'll take mercy on you and ask if you want more before dumping another pound of rice on your plate, but usually not. At that particular meal, I had managed a herculean effort in making it through the third plate, and was trying to catch my breath before the fourth came around. This time though, the mom, Sister Sunitha, asked if I wanted more, and I said that I was full. She responded with the standard tactic for cramming more into you: "Can you have just a little bit more?" This insidious remark will often trick you into letting them put more on your plate. Do not give in; for Indians, a "little bit" is more than most Americans eat in a week. After I had packed my stomach with absolutely all that it could hold, Sister Sunitha left us alone foodwise for a while. Then, she brought out her secret weapon: gulab jamun. In case you don't remember them, they are like fried doughnut holes that have been soaked in straight sugar. Eating one of those was nearly too much, but I survived! I think the two most different parts about Indian meals are first, that you eat with your hands, and second, that the family won't eat with you. Instead, they sit and watch you eat. Every time that your plate looks like you might finish, they correct that glaring flaw. It's an experience!

This is the Godavri River. Something that I forgot to mention earlier that might be relevant is that because of this river, Rajamundry is having a festival this year, Pushkaral. It is a Hindu festival that circles around the twelve rivers of India, and goes to one each year. It is a two week long crazy party that at least 2,000,000 people are expected to show up to, at bare minimum. The party is supposed to be so nuts that all missionaries are getting moved out of Rajamundry, into Hyderabad. That'll happen next week, on Monday. 

Have you ever wondered how Indians dealt with all the spicy foods?

These are some monkeys that we saw hanging around in the trees. See if you can actually spot them in the low quality photo.
This is some of the view from the top of the 7 story tall rented building used as a church. 


This is a common sight in the streets.

This isn't a licence plate, but is funny anyway.